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Digging up history

LESLIE WILBER

By LESLIE WILBER
Aug. 22, 2009 at 3:22 a.m.


Thousands of years ago, the Crossroads was filled with people. And they were busy.

Today, a group of volunteers is busy digging up evidence of these early locals.

"There were a great many people who lived here a long time ago," said Frank Condron, an archeological steward from Jackson County. "They were smart people."

Condron sat with a group of amateur archeologists in a back room of the Museum of the Costal Bend. The group sorts and catalogs artifacts twice a week - from 9:30 a.m. to 3p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays - and some of the items become part of the museum's permanent collection.

"It's always here and we're always adding to it," Sue Prudhomme, the museum's director, said.

To the uneducated eye, objects in the early people of the Costal Bend display might seem like nothing more than worn rocks. With a little training, the story etched in those rocks emerges.

"This is a scraper," said Kathryn Beeman as she measured a flat-edged stone. "I would call this a spatula if it was in the kitchen."

The scraper could be used for, well, scraping - like separating animal flesh from skin. Beside the scraper was a blade, creating a paleolithic cutlery set of sorts.

The volunteers have worked on professional digs, archeological steward Bill Birmingham said. Though they have only worked on items for the museum since it opened five years ago, most have nursed a love of archeology since childhood.

Archeological steward Jimmy Bluhm held a handful of chips off old rocks. He likes to study not only ancient tools, but what was left behind when they were made.

"I can tell what he was working with," Bluhm said. He can see if the craftsman was thinning out a heavy rock for harvest, or if he was fine-tuning the tip of an arrow.

Bluhm is interested in reconstructing pre-historic crafting techniques. Using authentic methods, he created many of the objects in a display that depicts an early home. He also carved an atlatl, what he calls an early automatic weapon. The spear can be launched from a hand-held catapult. The extra leverage gives the spear more speed and force, Bluhm said. The tip of the spear can be removed and reloaded.

"Our thing is to educate the public," Bluhm said.

Museum visitors are welcome to peek in on volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But those who want to get actively involved with local archeology will have the chance this fall.

Victoria College will offer a field crew certification program starting in September, Prudhomme said. The class will teach students to recognize artifacts, collect them and record information about them.

People who complete the class can participate in an archeology lab were they will work on digs with the museum's field crew, Prudhomme said.

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